Justice on the Line: Prosecutorial Screening Before Arrest

University of Illinois Law Review, 833 (2019)

William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-362

42 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2017 Last revised: 5 Nov 2021

Date Written: March 30, 2018


Police make more than eleven million arrests every year. Yet, prosecutors dismiss about twenty-five percent of criminal charges with no conviction being entered. Needless arrests are therefore clogging the criminal justice system and harming criminal defendants. For instance, Freddie Gray was fatally injured in police custody after being arrested for possession of a switchblade knife. Prosecutors later announced, however, that they did not believe the knife was actually illegal. If prosecutors had to approve warrantless arrests before police could take suspects into custody, Freddie Gray would still be alive. Yet, prosecutors’ offices almost never dictate who the police should or should not arrest. Based on interviews with forty prosecutors’ offices across the country, this article describes how police – not prosecutors – call the shots about who is input into the criminal justice system.

This article makes a counter-intuitive argument: We should be giving prosecutors more power so that they can better protect innocent defendants. Prosecutors should be responsible for approving or rejecting all warrantless arrests. Early prosecutorial case screening will benefit individuals by preventing unnecessary arrests, which in turn will reduce embarrassing mug shots, unnecessary bail, loss of employment due to pre-trial incarceration, and wrongful convictions. Avoiding unnecessary arrests will also reduce jail overcrowding and reduce the burden on judges, clerks, prosecutors, public defenders, and even the police. At present, prosecutorial screening of arrests has been implemented in only a handful of jurisdictions. Prosecutorial pre-screening can and should be dramatically expanded across the country to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system and prevent myriad harms to criminal suspects.

Keywords: prosecutors, screening, warrantless arrest, dismissals, dismiss, overcrowding, excessive caseloads, overcharging, wrongful arrests

Suggested Citation

Gershowitz, Adam M., Justice on the Line: Prosecutorial Screening Before Arrest (March 30, 2018). University of Illinois Law Review, 833 (2019), William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-362, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3037172 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3037172

Adam M. Gershowitz (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics